HTC Sensation XE Review

Introduction and Design

The restless HTC has recently been branching out its smartphones, trying to fill market niches it feels are underserved, like female-oriented handsets, or phones with an enhanced audio experience. For the latter it entered into cooperation with Beats by Dr Dre, and decided to leverage the audio brand's know-how with the HTC Sensation XE, an upgrade to its flagship Android handset.

We say upgrade since the HTC Sensation XE is the same phone with minor changes:  new color scheme,the 3rd generation dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset is pumped to its maximum 1.5GHz, and a beefier battery  compensates for that might.

The Beats Audio colaboration is meant to set the Sensation XE apart as a smartphone audio king. Did it succeed in creating the best smartphone for music lovers? Read on to find out…

In the box:

  • HTC Sensation XE handset
  • Beats Audio in-ear headphones
  • Beats Audio headphones pouch
  • Replacement buds of different sizes
  • Wall charger
  • MicroUSB cable
  • Warranty and user guide leaflets

The HTC Sensation XE hasn't been announced for any US carrier and you can only get it SIM-free for now. It's compatible with the AT&T network, and you can use it on T-Mobile without 3G connectivity.


HTC brushed the Sensation XE with red accents to emphasize this is a different handset than the standard Sensation (4G).

The earspeaker grill, the camera ring, and the capacitive buttons are all red, and so is the Beats Audio logo on the back, making the whole set appear cool and informal, what the Beats brand stands for.

You can compare the HTC Sensation XE with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

The back is done in two pieces of excellent quality soft-touch plastic, separated diagonally by a brushed aluminum strip in mahogany.

This metal strip is a part of the unibody aluminum chassis,  with curved recessed glass over the 4.3” LCD display with 540x960 pixels of resolution, that protects it from scratching when facing down.  A typical HTC high-quality build.

The screen is bright enough outside, with excellent viewing angles, and very good 256ppi pixel density, achieved with the traditional RGB matrix, as opposed to the PenTile arrangement of some Motorola qHD displays, for example. Text appears crisp and the colors are vivid. One advantage of the Super LCD tech of the screen is that it is usually very well calibrated and white appears almost spot on (~6500K), instead of cold blueish like on Super AMOLED displays.

Well, let’s flip the phone over and see what we have on the back to set it apart in the audio department. In short - nothing but the Beats logo. We have the same slightly protruding circular camera module of the 8MP shooter next to the speaker at the phone’s rear, and five dots piercing the soft-touch plastic, for various microphone and noise-cancellation purposes.

HTC Sensation XE 360-degree View:

Interface, Functionality and Software:

We find the HTC Sense 3.0 UI on the Sensation XE – it’s the only overlay that changes every nook and cranny of stock Android, and integrates beautiful graphics with useful functionality in one seamless, coherent experience.

For more info about it, you can read our HTC Sensation 4G interface review, since what we have on the Sensation XE is nearly identical, if we don’t count the Beats logo which slows boot-up time with a few seconds, as well as the popup that appears when you plug in the Beats headphones.

HTC Sense has some of the best collections of useful preinstalled apps in it, and the Sensation XE benefits from that fact, sporting apps that range from the excellent Locations for offline navigation worldwide, through SoundHound for song recognition,  to small but important bits like Flashlight.

The handset sports the most powerful chipset Qualcomm can currently supply – 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 – and it shows in the fluid performance of a heavy overlay like HTC Sense. It’s not as speedy as Samsung’s Exynos, for instance, but Qualcomm’s strength is in the integration and optimization of the whole chipset, including the baseband radio.

It might not get record Quadrant scores, but have no doubt that this chipset is one of the most powerful out there at the moment, more than enough for any Android task thrown at it. The 768MB of RAM are the norm for the company’s high-ends, and you also get 1GB of ROM for installing apps, plus a 16GB card in the package (8GB in some regions).

Browser and Connectivity:

HTC’s Android handsets sport excellent browsers, and the Sensation XE makes no exception, with fast page load times thanks to the dual-core goodness, and speedy Adobe Flash performance.

The pages render in real time while zooming without any hiccups, unlike many other handsets which blur the image during the process, and then resume rendering. We are especially fond of the speedy text reflow, which seems to always hit the sweet readability spot, with ample inertia when scrolling up and down.

The Sensation XE is loaded with connectivity options, starting from the 14.4Mbps HSDPA radio and the MHL port nestled inside the microUSB profile at the bottom, used to connect to a TV's HDMI port.  Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, A-GPS, FM Radio and DLNA round up the connectivity options, and the multimedia streaming to DLNA-enabled gear is handled by the Connected media app. Of note here are the quick times for the GPS to lock us when using the Location app.


We have the same 8MP camera found in the HTC Sensation on the Sensation XE, whose unobtrusive interface is very clean and easy to use, yet brimful of functions. It doesn’t sport a Panorama mode like the newest TouchWiz 4.0, but compensates with  a rich collection of effects you can pre-apply to the photos or videos. Besides, you can always download a Panorama app from the Market.

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Thanks to the faster processor it seems that navigating is a bit more fluid than on the Sensation, which sometimes took a split second before the numerous menu drawers got pulled out. Also, beware that the handset shoots with widescreen 16:9 mode checked by default, if you are wondering why so much scene gets into the frame on the sides, but up and down margins seem limited. There is also an autoenhance mode, which applies post-processing algorithms to smooth the pics out, but takes away some detail.

The photos are overly contrasty by default and with dull colors, which true photographers might scoff at.  The camera captures fine detail, and gets tricky exposure situations right most of the time.

Quick-to-fire exposure adjustments are the weak side of the otherwise pretty jolly and detailed  1080p HD video the Sensation XE captures. The scene lights up or darkens too abruptly when panning around with the handset, which makes the transitions appear a tad artificial. Still, 1080p video with 30fps is an excellent feat to have on a mobile device, we just wish the frame rate didn’t drop and then rev up under low-lighting situations, sometimes significantly. The handset is one of the few that record stereo audio while filming, but the mics pick every tiny gust of wind, which results in an overbearing hissing sound in the videos.

HTC Sensation XE Sample Video:

HTC Sensation XE Indoor Sample Video:


Before we dabble into the Beats by Dr Dre endeavor HTC has undertaken with the Sensation XE, we have to say that the music player is largely the stock HTC Sense 3.0 one.

Granted, the player is a beauitufully skinned piece of software with numerous functions, but no additional audio settings have appeared for twisting and playing around with, other than the previous list of equalizer presets. The stock music player on the Sensation XE doesn't support FLAC or any other high-qualtiy audio format, except .wav. Rather strange and disappointing, considering the high-end music phone idea.

The only new thing compared to the original Sensation is the Beats Audio mode. This is a tailored sound profile, designed to “enhance” the sound by giving it the Beats by Dre signature. It pumps up the overall volume and makes changes throughout the whole audio spectrum; but it mainly boosts the (low) bass and highest treble. The Beats by Dre sound is great if you listen to modern tunes (like the music of Dr Dre himself), but not as suitable for jazz for example.

This mode works with any pair of headphones that is plugged-in - with various success rates.

There are no upgrades when it comes to the audio hardware as well. HTC doesn't tout improving the DAC (digital-to-analog converter) or the operational amplifier (op amp), which both have great impact on the audio quality. So, except the software audio profile, there aren't any differences when compared to the original Sensation or other phones using the same Snapdragon S3 chipset.

There is an improvement in the supplied in-ear headphones, though. They are superior to any other headphones coming in a phone's standard package – including Sony Ericsson Walkman phones and Apple's iPhones.  It seems they are a version of the iBeats in-ears, with HTC-friendly control module, and smaller number of ear plugs. Of course, they come with the “by Dre” sound signature (featuring heavy bass), and the red cable will make you look pretty cool rockin' them beats on the metro.

The loudspeaker is a bit wimpy, although a tad beefier than the one on the original Sensation. The sound is pretty clear, and as full as it can be from a smartphone, but still notches below the excellent ones on the Nokia N8, or the Sony Ericsson Xperia line of handsets, in the strength department.

Nothing worries the HTC Sensation XE as far as video playback goes – it supports DivX/Xvid out of the box, and can run clips up to those highest 1080p definitions you throw at it. Beats Audio can be turned on or off directly from the video player.


Voice quality in the ear piece of the HTC Sensation XE is pretty svelte - loud and clear, while thanks to the plethora of noise-canceling mics on the back the other party said our voice sounded very natural and background noise got almost completely filtered out.

The 1730mAh battery is good for 7 hours and twenty minutes of talk time with 3G turned on, which is more than the original Sensation, and 540 hours of standby. In our daily usage of the handset we didn't notice anything unusual about the battery drain, despite the pumped up processor frequency in comparison with the first Sensation.


We say kudos to HTC for trying to diversify the Android lineup branching into specialized smartphones like the audio-oriented Sensation XE, an upgrade to one already excellent flagship.

However, we are not impressed by the minor improvements. As there is nothing new in the audio-centric hardware or the music player, the only improvements are the great in-ear headphones bundled with the phone, and the Beats Audio mode, which some will not use. Considering the price difference between the XE and the original Sensation, you buy the headphones full price.

So should you buy the Sensation XE? It depends on what you are looking for. If you want the trendy Beats branding, then yes. However, if the music quality is what you seek, the XE doesn't do anything unique - you can get any phone and pair it with high quality headphones of your choice.
If you want a high-end HTC phone, but don't care about the earbuds quality, or have some other expensive set lying around, you can get the standard HTC Sensation for less than the XE.

The iPhone 4S has excellent audio hardware, records 1080p video, and you'll have the wonders of the App Store at your disposal. For truly good music experience, however, you would have to get better in-ear headphones than what's supplied in its box.

Alternatively, if you insist on Android high-end with a big screen, you can look at the Samsung Galaxy S II, which has proven to be one of the best Android pieces of hardware, and is thin and light, with Super AMOLED Plus display.

Software version of the reviewed unit: 1.73.401.2

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  • Comes with a high quality set of headphones
  • Very good background noise cancellation for outgoing calls
  • Both processor and battery capacity are upped compared to the original Sensation
  • Cool red highlights set the Sensation XE design apart
  • Stereo audio recording during 1080p HD video capture


  • Beats Audio isn't much else than a sound profile
  • The microphones are set on too sensitive while recording video
  • No FLAC format support
  • The picture quality from the 8MP camera could be better

PhoneArena Rating:


User Rating:

6 Reviews

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